Tuan-An Tran is a talented Vietnamese guitarist, who always has his homeland on his mind. Through his music, which has been imprinted with the national soul, Tran expresses his great love for folk music in particular and the Vietnamese culture in general. The talented guitarist, who was born in 1992 and currently living in the United States, always has his homeland at heart, so much so that his debut album was named Stay, My Beloved. The album was internationally released by Frameworks Records Firm (Sony / The Orchard) on April 18, 2020. Recently, Tran spoke with Culture Magazin about his work, upcoming plans and his desire to bring Vietnamese music to an international audience.
What is your inspiration and motivation to release your first album with only Vietnamese music?
I wanted to record something personal, something close to my heart as my debut album. Coming from Vietnam, I grew up listening to Vietnamese music my whole life. It is only appropriate to record an album with only Vietnamese music as my first album. Also, after touring in the USA and Canada for the past few years, the reaction from the audience for the Vietnamese repertoire was always very positive. So, that was my motivation to bring this music to a more diverse audience.
While young generations tend to be attracted to modern music genres, do you think the first album with all traditional music is a risky move?
I don’t think so. First of all, being a musician is already a risky move. I love what I do and I am passionate about it. I think as artists, we have to voice our opinions and follow what we love. This is what allows us to have diversity in the first place. That’s the only way to create connections and reach the kind of audience that will listen to your art. I grew up with traditional Vietnamese songs and I feel that I should express that. We have to remember that before all the modern Vietnamese music, there were traditional folk songs that existed long before. So as an artist of this era I want to bring that to the attention of the various generations. Don’t get me wrong, I also listen and love all kind of modern music.
What is your intention to structure your album with a long intro song, around 14 minutes? What stories are carried by this arrangement?
This is completely intentional. I wanted to introduce the audience right away to the heart of the traditional Vietnamese culture. This piece is based on a traditional folk tale of Thánh Gióng, (English equivalent: The Legend of the Bamboo Child). This is an epic legend of a child leaping out of a crib and within a few years, became a giant to defeat the invaders. Of course, the whole story is much longer than that, but that’s the idea. The composer The-An Nguyen wrote this piece intending to tell this story in 7 movements. You can hear how it progresses over 14 minutes of music with various emotions, ranging from lullaby-like harmony to a full of tension (or dissonance in musical term) or to put it simply “something is not right” kind of harmony. I think it does an amazing job of telling this folk tale.
What are some of your memories that you can recall when listening to this album?
All kinds of memories. The most vivid memory is probably me looking up to the ceiling fan in the home where I grew up in, while my dad or my mom were holding me, singing Bèo Dạt Mây Trôi (Floating Duckweeds, Drifting Clouds – Track #3) or Người Ơi, Người Ở Đừng Về (Stay, My Beloved – Track #7). So, as you can see, this music is very personal to me.
Music is quite competitive, especially for Asians. What makes you stand out of the pack to be successful?
I wouldn’t call myself “successful” since that is very subjective. Everybody has a different measure of being successful. Music is competitive, but it is rewarding. For me, this album is a huge success because I did it. I recorded something that I love, and the whole process was so satisfying, it didn’t feel like “work”, that is a success for me. I’ve always wanted to make an album, and now it is finally out there for everyone to hear. This is a statement of who I am today, in 2019-2020.
Are you going to cover modern Vietnamese music to expand your audience in the near future?
I don’t have a plan yet, but things always change. I think this music is always going to have an audience, and I will push for that. I’m a classical guitarist, not a pop artist. All I can say for now is that there are always new works being written for the guitar, so I am asking more Vietnamese composers to write for the guitar. I hope in the near future, there will be Vietnamese Guitar Music Vol. 2,3,4…
What is your plan to promote the album while COVID-19 is happening?
To be honest, it is really hard. I had a tour scheduled to promote this album but of course, that is not going to happen anytime soon anymore. So I’m promoting it mainly through various social media outlets and getting it reviewed by different blogs, journals, or magazines.
As a Vietnamese living abroad, how important is Vietnamese culture to you?
It is probably the most important! My culture is who I am and it is my identity. Maybe one of the things I miss the most is speaking Vietnamese. Luckily, there is a great Vietnamese community here in Chicago and when we can, we get together to eat and catch up on the latest updates in Vietnamese.
Is music a channel for you to preserve and promote Vietnamese culture? How do you practice Vietnamese culture in your daily life?
Music is a language that translates so well to every culture, so I plan to keep using that to promote my culture. I also cook Vietnamese food almost every day. Thankfully, my wife loves Vietnamese food, so we cook together and I get to introduce her to different kinds of Vietnamese cuisine. Oh, and she would not refuse a cup of Vietnamese coffee. If there are dishes that I don’t know how to cook, I’d FaceTime my mom and get her recipes. We also celebrate all the Vietnamese celebrations, such as Tet and Moon Festiva, so that is nice. Even though I live far away from my hometown, it feels like home most of the time.
This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt